Port Townsend, Jefferson County dispute recreation tax monies

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The City Council has deferred action on a proposal to withhold or discontinue tax funds promised to Jefferson County for recreational purposes pending the outcome of a meeting between city and county staffs.

The decision was made at Monday's council meeting after a 30-minute discussion.

Voters approved Proposition 1 in November 2010, which raised the sales tax in Jefferson County 0.03 percent, with the additional funds to be used to finance public safety, youth and senior services.

Under the law, the city was to receive 40 percent of the new revenue.

It committed half of that amount — estimated at $212,000 — for support of the recreation center and Memorial Field, both of which are in Port Townsend.

After a year of the proposition, the city is seeking to revise the agreement, stating that it is unable to provide the agreed amount due to unforeseen financial circumstances.

One factor is the maintenance of the municipal pool, which is, like Memorial Field, an essential piece of the local recreational tapestry.

“When we made this agreement, the pool didn't figure in,” said Mayor David King.

“With the desire to keep the pool open full-time, the current path is not sustainable without some compromise.”

The resolution that was not addressed Monday night would have authorized King to notify the county that the city intends to withhold Proposition 1 payments totaling about $35,000 effective Oct. 1 if there is no progress on negotiating an agreement on a joint funding strategy for parks and recreation facilities.

Setting up such a plan was part of the original inter­local agreement, the city maintains, so its withdrawing the funds does not constitute a breach of contract.

A letter signed by all three county commissioners and delivered to the City Council just before Monday's meeting said the county has followed the “letter and the spirit” of the agreement and has worked toward developing the plan.

“They are saying that they don't want to back out of the agreement but just to modify some of the conditions,” said County Administrator Philip Morley.

“That's a little like saying, 'I don't want to change your employment contract, just divert some of your salary to one of your co-workers.'”

While the county attempted a diplomatic dialogue, members of public at the City Council meeting did not mince words.

“I can't believe that the city would consider reneging on an agreement they made with the voters,” said Bill Miller of Port Townsend.

“If this happens, I don't think that any entity, public or private, will ever consider entering in any agreement with the city again.”

“When Proposition 1 came along, we applauded it because it was an opportunity for the county and the city to work together,” said Linda Herzog of Quilcene who is a retired city manager.

“The voters supported this in good faith, but now we are seeing one of the participants break and run and hold the money hostage.

“The issue is bigger than the $35,000 that would be put away. The issue is the trust of the voters.

“If you do this, we will never be able to trust what you are going to do again.”

Council member Michelle Sandoval, who was mayor when the interlocal agreement was signed, defended the city's action with the analogy of a real estate contract.

“We had a contract with the voters and a contract with the county,” Sandoval said.

“Our contract with the voters was clear, and our contract with the county was also very specific.

“We didn't say we'd fund Memorial Field for years. It was up to four years if certain conditions were met — and they were not.

Sandoval said the county was “late from the get-go” with developing a plan, which forced the city action.

“There's a contract, and it hasn't been followed,” she said.

“We had this contract because, as much as we love each other, it is a difficult relationship.”

Postponing action allows for a meeting to include King, Morley, County Commissioner Phil Johnson, City Administrator David Timmons and Public Works Director Frank Gifford.

The meeting will be scheduled for next week and will not be open to the public, Timmons said.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 19. 2012 9:28AM
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